MLB owners approved a proposal Tuesday for an 80-plus game season that starts sometime in early July.
The level of certainty involved with this plan is somewhere near zero. Where exactly will they play, who will everyone play, how exactly will they keep everyone safe and how legitimate is a half-season are all valid questions without firm answers.
And the biggest truth of all: They can set dates and plan all they want, but everything involved with coronavirus is a moving target.
The uncertainty about the future, however, is sometimes mitigated by the fixed nature of the past.
As an exercise in both amusement and information, let’s take a look back at 2019 (and some other seasons as well) to see how things might have looked for the Twins had the regular season consisted of only the first 80 games.
This isn’t a perfect science since teams will probably play with more urgency with roughly half the normal number of games on the schedule. And it should be noted that 80 games is probably representative enough of teams’ strengths since it’s very similar to the length of an NBA and NHL season (82 games) and still five times as long as an NFL season.
*After 80 games in 2019, the Twins were 52-28 — eight games clear of Cleveland in the American League Central. They would have been the runaway division winners, minus the drama that evolved as the summer went on.
They would have tied the Yankees — also 52-28 after 80 games — for the best record in the majors. The Yankees would have been the No. 1 seed based on a 2-1 head-to-head edge over the Twins, and Minnesota would have had home field advantage while facing Houston in the ALDS in the first round. Chances are folks around here would be even more mad about the Astros cheating if that series had happened and the Twins had lost. Or maybe they’d just be happy not to play the Yankees.
*The 80th game on the Twins’ schedule was a 5-2, 18-inning loss to Tampa Bay. If not for that loss, the Twins would have had the best record in the American League and faced the wild card winner. Lest you think the Twins would have cruised through to the ALCS, however, these relief pitchers threw for the Twins in that loss: Blake Parker; Mike Morin; Matt Magill; and Ryne Harper. The bullpen was dramatically remade by season’s end.
*Also at the end of that Tampa Bay game, Miguel Sano was hitting .195 after an 0-for-7, three strikeout effort. For the rest of the season, he hit .271 with 25 homers and nearly a 1.000 OPS. So safe to say the narrative of his season changed quite a bit — and a good reminder that there’s far less time to pull out of a slump in a shortened season.
*Imagine if the 2001 season had ended after just 80 regular season games. The upstart Twins were 49-31 with the second-best record in the American League. They would have won the division and had a favorable playoff matchup instead of fading fast down the stretch and finishing six games out at 85-77.
But the 2006 Twins, who got off to an awful 25-33 start, were still buried deep in the standings after 80 games and never would have won the division in a short season.
*It should be fairly intuitive and obvious, then, that fast or slow starts in a season half as long would be that much more helpful or damaging to a team’s prospects. Last year’s Twins were 17-10 at the end of April and 38-18 at the end of May.
A team like the 2020 Twins, with a lot of holdovers from a 101-win season, should be poised for success if and when a shortened season commences.
But the margin for error will create a sense of urgency seldom felt by teams. They’ll be playing the first 80 games as though they’re the last 80 games of a normal season — one of a million fascinating subplots for the potential season ahead.